Two visual parallels best explain the drawing collages of Chicago artist and poet Tony Fitzpatrick: Roman Catholic holy cards and baseball cards. In each of these forms—one sacred, the other vernacular (if not profane)—a primary image is surrounded by other images that combine visually to tell the story of the figure in the center. St. Patrick might be set amidst a four-leaf clover, a banished snake, a Celtic Cross; Babe Ruth among the number 714, a New York Yankees logo, a bat. Both the holy card and the baseball card also include some text, a prayer to the saint or the player’s stats, as Fitzpatrick’s drawing collages include his poetry, laid like the brick walls of the city along the margins of the work.
Fitzpatrick’s collages—which include his poetry, laid like the brick walls of the city along the margins of the work—grow out of his desire to tell stories about Chicago, some person or place or emotion. Around a central drawn image, he builds the collage using the detritus of everyday life: old matchbooks, postcards, cigar bands, advertising, girly magazines, baseball cards, political pamphlets, playing cards, novelty glow-in-the-dark stickers, bus transfers. These physical fragments of everyday life evoke a past Chicago, places long-gone, some forgotten, some dimly remembered, and allow Fitzpatrick to create magical memories of the city.
These images sometimes use dogs: mythic, like Anubis in Apparition of the Honored Chicago Dead, or semi-anthropomorphized, like Blues for Mr. Hound Dog; realistic like Wonder Dog, or fantastic, like Chicago Ghost Dog. Fitzpatrick’s work is both intimately personal and an engagement with everyone’s Chicago. The deep emotional honesty that marks his work comes out perhaps most strongly in the poem Chicago Ghost Dog: “Somewhere in Chicago there is a dog that remembers the stars and my Dad.”
Fitzpatrick learned his Chicago from his father, who was the inspiration for his book-length poem, Bum Town. The best dogs, with their loyalty and devotion, are like members of one’s family, and the image of a stray dog, without family or home, unable to see the stars blotted out by the city’s lights, can haunt us. But if one of those strays remembers Fitzpatrick’s father, and the stars, everything is connected again, the individual and the cosmos, in dreamlike imagery.
His ability to create such magic in words and images is what makes Tony Fitzpatrick one of Chicago’s greatest artists and poets.
Art: Wonder Dog, mixed media, 2004 by Tony Fitzpatrick